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A Good Climate/Energy Bill? March 30, 2010

Posted by Amir Roth in clean energy, climate, energy efficiency, sustainability, Uncategorized.
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If you were to ask the average Joe (e.g., Joe “the plumber”) or Sarah (e.g., SarahP) what the most important issue facing the country today, he or she would say “jobs” (if they didn’t have a job) or “health care” (if they had no health insurance or inadequate health insurance), “immigration” (if they were white and lived in Texas/Arizona/New Mexico/California/Colorado or if they were here illegally), “national security” (if they just saw or read about the Moscow subway bombing), DADT (if they are a hater) or “inability to see Finland from my house” (if they were SarahP).

But the real answer, the right answer, is climate change and/or clean energy interchangeably. Politicians usually deal with short term disasters like (e.g., housing market crashes, failure of “too big to fail” financial institutions) and some medium-term problems (e.g., impending bankruptcy of Medicare/Medicaid/Social Security). They are less apt to tackle long-term problems like climate change, preferring to defer those to future administrations which will be forced to meet them as they reach medium- and short- term status. And this is not just politicians, this is humans. We simply don’t respond to slow incremental change for the worse in the same way that we would respond if that change were abrupt.This is why Dan “Stumbling on Happiness” Gilbert says that climate change is happening too slowly. If it happened faster, we would be more likely to do something about it.

We don’t respond to slow change because evolution hasn’t selected and wired us (or our amygdala) for it. But fortunately, it has given us a frontal cortex which allows us to sit back, analyze, and take rational action. And any rational analysis shows that we can’t really afford to wait to do anything here. Unless we do something relatively drastic in the relatively near future, the effects of climate change will not only make actual living less physically pleasant or tolerable than it is now, it will exacerbate each and every problem we feel acutely today. The economy? Conservative estimates are that nations will have to forfeit 15-20% of their GDP to mitigate direct effects of climate change. Health care? Global warming will push malaria and other currently “tropical” diseases to latitudes and altitudes which are now temperate and free of these diseases. Immigration? Rising sea levels will displace the entire population of Florida, not to mention Bangladesh and about 50% of the population of China. DADT? I guess climate change will not have an impact on that. Although maybe it should. Maybe if climate change affected DADT, Republicans would become more interested in it.

But now there is hope. Maybe. After the health insurance bill, and the jobs bill, and the upcoming bank reform bill, could we actually have a climate and energy bill? And would this bill be any good? I am going to write more about this as more information comes out, but here are the preliminary details of the Kerry-Graham-Lieberman clean energy bill. There is a useful side-by-side of this bill, the House ACES bill, and POTUS Obama’s proposal. The best thing I can say about KGL is that it includes a “linked carbon fuel fee” which sounds a lot like a carbon tax. Neither the Obama nor the Waxman-Markey bills contain any mention of a carbon tax, they are both pure cap-and-trade proposals. I am a big proponent of a carbon tax (if you have read a recent post, you know I am in favor of any vice tax) over a cap-and-trade system which I think will be too complicated to enforce, and not very effective at changing consumer lifestyles and behaviors. A “professional” environmental activist told me just this weekend that a carbon tax has “Absolutely zero political legs. None. Negative.” So for now, I will have to satisfy myself with the KGL language which probably isn’t a carbon tax but at least sounds like it could potentially be one. I am sure I will write more about carbon tax in a future post. The thing I found saddest (although I guess that is a relative term) is amount of projected overall investment: $100bn over 10 years according to POTUS, $150bn over the same in WM, and TBA in KGL. Anyways, really people? $150bn? That’s it? $940bn to insure 32mn uninsured Americans and only $150bn to save 300mn Americans from hell on earth? $1tn (is that trillion) over 10 years to save us from imaginary Iraqi WMDs but only $150bn to save us from multiple future Katrinas? $182bn to save “too big to fail” AIG and only $150bn to save the planet? Perhaps the planet is not too big to fail! Hey, we’ll always have Jupiter!

Anyways, expect to hear a lot more from me about this in the coming weeks.

P.S. An American would never do this. Either of it.

P.P.S. On the advice of aquaman 2.0, I have switched routines to 1000 meters followed by 10 100-meter sprints. So far, so good. Although I might be hooking up with a “total immersion” trainer soon.

P.P.P.S. What is the Vegas line on the number of days left in Mike Steele’s RNC chairmanship? 4.5? Give me the under.

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